Getting the facts straight

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The remarkable thing about Paul Newman’s arguments (Letters, April 1) in the AV v FPTP debate is how negative they are. He asserts that Australia has the most rigid two-party system in the world and implies this is due to their use of AV, yet suggests that the USA’s use of FPTP is a plus point for that system. But the USA has a rigid two-party system that is also a plutocracy, is very violent and polarised and throws up candidates for high office that cannot find Africa on the map! So what have we learned on the respective merits of AV v FPTP from this comparison? Nothing!

He also makes the classic mistake of trying to predict what result a previous UK election would have produced under changed electoral rules. Cannot be done; changing the voting system changes the way people vote and in a way that cannot be later inferred. He also makes the astonishing claim that it is possible to get a majority not only of first, but also second preference votes, without winning a three way contest. Rubbish. A candidate who gets a majority (a number more than half of the total of the first preference votes automatically wins under AV.

He calls this shabby elitist stitch up undemocratic. Wrong; at the last election both the LibDems and the Labour Party had commitments to electoral reform in their manifestos, whereas the Tories were against it. The combined LibDem and Labour vote was 52 percent compared to 36.1 percent for the Tories (,_2010). So there is a mandate for a referendum on this issue.

So why doesn’t Paul Newman advance any positive arguments for his preferred system? Let’s look at some points of comparison between AV and FPTP.

1) Which system has an easier ballot paper to complete? FPTP requires a cross in one box whereas AV requires the voter to rank as many candidates as she/he wants in order, leaving the rest blank. The latter doesn’t sounds very difficult to me.

It’s the sort of thing that clubs and societies do all the time up and down the country. And if you cannot be bothered with all this ranking just put a 1 against the candidate you would have marked with an X in FPTP. Many countries require much more complex systems and their voters cope. However, let’s be generous and call this a minor advantage in favour of FPTP.

2) Which system lets the voter vote for the candidate they really want? In FPTP voters are always worried about letting in their least favourite party. So they vote tactically, not for who they really want to win. We’re so used to having to do this that it seems an OK thing to do. It’s not; it’s a very negative way of approaching politics. Under AV you can vote for the candidate of your choice and make your second preference your insurance vote to keep out your least favourite party. An overwhelming win for AV I think.

3) Which system prevents minor parties having a disproportionate influence on the election and our politics? Under FPTP when two major parties are running neck and neck in a constituency, they tend to pander to the views of supporters of minor parties to induce them to switch to them. This gives the minor parties influence that their electoral support does not warrant. Under AV this is less likely to happen since a majority of votes (a higher number than often occurs under FPTP) is required to win. A clear win for AV.

4) Which system allows the electorate to choose their MP rather than a party machine? Parties decide who their candidates are and in a non-marginal constituency under FPTP an unpopular candidate for the leading party is still pretty certain to get elected. In the week when the third ex-MP has been jailed for expenses fraud we should keep in mind how arrogant complacent MPs can get.

Under AV an unpopular candidate of the leading party can be challenged by an independent candidate of the same persuasion and voters can choose the independent as their first choice, and the official candidate for the second, without worrying about letting in the other lot. A clear win for AV.

5) Which system is most expensive for the country? Both systems can be operated manually. No expensive counting machines are required for either system (although we note that the USA often uses counting machines for their FPTP system!). However, counting under AV IS slightly more complicated, pushing up labour costs a bit. Lets say a minor advantage to FPTP.

The FPTP system was OK when we had two major parties who together gained more than 90 percent of the votes. But now in UK elections we have Conservatives, UKIP, Labour, LibDem and the Greens. Excuse me if I omit the BNP but include them if you like; it makes the point even stronger. We need a voting system that can cope with that complexity. We saw that at the last election the FPTP system did not.

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Roger Oliver,

East Dean